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Legal Update: Will Section 54 affect your business?

12 August 2015

Have you considered or are aware of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and are you ready for Section 54?

This Act received Royal Assent on 26 March 2015. Its principal purpose is to consolidate existing legislation containing criminal offences relating to slavery (including human trafficking, forced labour and other forms of exploitation) into a single statue designed to provide law enforcement agencies with stronger tools to tackle modern slavery. Whilst most readers may now be thinking 'how and why may this apply to me', there may be obligations that apply to your organisation.

Section 54 (transparency in supply chains) is expected to be brought into force in October 2015; Commercial organisations over a certain size will be required to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement each year on their website, setting out the steps that they have taken to ensure that there is no slavery and human trafficking in any part of their own business or their supply chains (Section 54). Those who supply goods or services and have a minimum total turnover of an anticipated £36 million* will be expected to publicly state each year the action they have taken to ensure their supply chains are slavery free. *The £36 million threshold corresponds with the Companies Act threshold for determining the size of a large company.

Companies that qualify as small or medium under the Companies Act will not have to prepare a statement; early signs indicate however, that 'commercial organisation' includes all subsidiaries.

Who does the Act apply to?

A business will need to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement if it:

• Is a company (not just a listed company) or partnership over a certain size.
• Supplies goods or services.
• Carries on a business or part of a business in the UK.

What will the statement need to contain?

Section 54 does not mandate what a statement must contain but there are 6 areas of information a business may include in its slavery and human trafficking statement:

• The organisation's structure, its business and its supply chains;
• Its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking;
• Its due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains;
• The parts of its business and supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk;
• Its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against such key performance indicators as it considers appropriate;
• The training about slavery and human trafficking that is available to its staff.

The use of the word 'may' is key; although no business will be obliged to report on these factors, the list is designed to encourage businesses to adopt a more uniform approach.

Further Guidance

The Secretary of State has the power to issue guidance about the duties imposed by Section 54 (54(9); this guidance may include further provision about the kind of information that organisations may include in a statement.

One area where further guidance may be helpful is the issue of what falls within businesses' supply chains. Section 54 refers to any of a business' supply chains, and so it has to be assumed the drafters of this Act intended to cover both direct and indirect supply chains.

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The ‘invisible’ volunteering skills employers are failing to notice.

06 August 2015

With more people choosing to go to university now than in previous years, it's becoming increasingly evident that a degree on its own is no longer enough to ensure a job. It would seem pretty fair to assume that a graduate degree will, somewhere down the line, lead to a graduate level job, but for many recent graduates their graduation gown seems a far cry from the dressing gown they now find themselves sat in mid-week.

Most Universities and employers alike want to see evidence of extra-curricular activities and willingness to learn skills outside of what is taught on the course. To them, it implies the individual is going to be well-rounded, proactive and enthusiastic; all qualities that employers want in their company. But with part-time jobs sometimes just as difficult to find as graduate jobs, could the solution to this 'up-skilling' be in the form of voluntary work?

There is a widely accepted view amongst voluntary organisations, policy makers, the general public and often the jobless themselves that volunteering can have a positive impact in the search for employment. The most obvious reason being that employers will look for experience on a CV; a lone 2:1 on an A4 piece of paper will soon get lost in the pile of other applications.
The experience of working for a voluntary organisation will teach you valuable lessons that are transferrable to the world of paid work; time-keeping, reliability and balancing different tasks are all crucial skills both in the voluntary and non-voluntary sectors.

But even more important is the personal gains one can get through voluntary work. 88% of volunteers said that doing it gives them a sense of 'personal achievement'; the fact you feel you are able to contribute effectively will increase your self -confidence and help you come across better to employers, thus increasing your chances of being hired.

However, whilst on paper it may seem that voluntary work is the answer to our employment woes, it's possible we've got our rose-tinted glasses on...

A study found that, while 88% of those looking for work believed volunteering would help them to secure paid work, only 41% who did find a job said volunteering helped them get it. So why the big difference? If volunteering provides us with such invaluable employability skills then surely there shouldn't be this disparity?

Perhaps the answer lies within a new report from the CIPD, which found that only 16% of employers invite applicants to talk about volunteering in their application process, while only 31% ask them about it in a face-to-face interview. Suggesting that a lot of the time, employers may be focussing solely on previous work experience and failing to recognise the voluntary work that can produce the same valuable skills that paid work does. Peter Cheese, CIPD Chief Executive, urged more employers to ask about the experience candidates might have in this area and, in doing so, they may realise that the exact skills they're looking for are the ones the candidate has developed through voluntary work.

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The UK’s recovery is dipping; how do we combat the skills shortage?

29 July 2015

It's the first time that employment has fallen since 2013. In March - May 2015 there were 30.98 million people in work; 67,000 fewer than in the period December 2014 to February 2015. This leaves 1.85 million unemployed people across the UK. This doesn't necessarily mean that the upward trend in employment we have come to expect is on its way out, but it seems it can no longer be taken for granted.

However, as 74% of UK employers plan to recruit more permanent staff over the next three months, hopefully this dip in the economy in the last two months is a temporary glitch. In fact, Markit's recent research shows that 'new product developments, investments in additional capacity and expansion into new markets' will boost growing support for businesses over the next year. In the private sector at least, employment is expected to grow as more people are hired to tackle rising workloads.

Amidst growing concerns over the UK's EU referendum and government spending cuts, there is one particular obstacle to employment growth which is proving to be a persistent thorn in our sides. The skills shortage is one of the most urgent problems in the labour market today, yet is perhaps the least 'quick-fixable', preventing any significant hiring until training and development catches up. At the moment, a great many businesses are operating at a very high volume, yet 96% have declared that they have 'no' or only 'a little' surplus capacity to manage any further increase in demand. For the REC's Chief Executive, Kevin Green, "it's concerning that instead of meeting this challenge the government is making it harder for employers to bring in the people they need from overseas with the proposed changes to Tier 2 visas".

But beyond recruiting more, there needs to be a focus on developing staff internally. Three-quarters of employers, according to Personnel Today, worry that there is a skills gap between their current employees' competencies and what is needed for them to succeed in the future. Not only does L&D raise and adapt an employee's skills, but it also acts as a strong retainer. It encourages employee loyalty because it shows an employee that they are care about their learning and shows they want to upskill them to take on more responsibility and broaden their scope and capabilities. We must remember that the multitude of 'underskilled' workers are, most likely, more than happy to learn and to become more valuable to their organisation. We all want a more stable labour market with minimal unemployment, and if we don't have the skills to make it happen yet, we certainly have the ability to grow those skills from our current capabilities.

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